Midge Maisel has everything: a beautiful Upper West Side apartment in uptown Manhattan, a loving husband Joel, doting parents who live close enough to babysit her two lovely children, and an unchanging calves-to-ankle ratio. Until the evening her husband decides to leave her for his secretary, Penny Pan.
Distraught Midge Maisel finds something she never thought could be found at the end of a subway ride on a dark rainy New York night – a voice.
Set in a bright, loud and very Jewish 1958 New York City, Amy Sherman-Palladino’s The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is the story of Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan from House of Cards) who turns personal tragedy into a comic stand-up routine. Drunk and riled up, she finds herself at the Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village, where she delivers a lightning sharp, refreshing and hilarious monologue that results in a lawsuit (for obscenity) and a manager.
Together with Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein), who runs the Gaslight, Midge goes for comedy scene pub-crawls, gatecrashes events for research and study and scouts for rare records of stand-up acts in indie stores in the Village.
The Amazon Prime Video series, by the creator of cult favourite Gilmore Girls, has been renewed for a second season, and has been nominated in the Best Actress and the Best comedy or Musical categories at the Golden Globe awards.
The series has quick and almost always witty dialogue, an eccentric and strong ensemble cast, a brilliant production design that transports you to a hyper-coloured and beautifully curated version of 1950s New York City, a soundtrack that includes Barbra Streisand, and a marvelous wardrobe. Midge’s jokes and stand-up routines are genuinely funny and she never ever goes out to explain the punchline. Rachel Brosnahan’s uninhibited portrayal of a woman who has found her freedom makes Midge all the more captivating.
There’s a larger story here about women in comedy. Midge is asked if she knows how to sing more than once, because, you know, women can’t be funny. She meets a fair share of sexist organisers and managers too, but none of that dims her sparkle.
An encounter with stand-up star Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch) only goes on to reinforce how hard it is for women survive in comedy. Lennon advises Midge to find a character and adopt a larger than life persona to be taken seriously, which she herself does by playing a crass overweight woman on stage even though she lives a proper and glamourous life away from the public eye.
Midge, does not heed this counsel, and shreds Lennon’s fake body suit to pieces with an act akin to professional suicide. She takes on Lennon, a comedy giant and creates a ruckus, but also makes the headlines.
Inspired by legendary female comedians such as Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller and Jean Caroll, the show also features a character named Lenny Bruce, inspired by the popular stand-up comedian of the time and played faithfully down to the same inflections and accent by Luke Kirby. Midge is, and wants to be, everything that Lenny Bruce is – hilarious, uninhibited, brave, and electric. The two strike up an endearing friendship, visiting jazz clubs, smoking up and bailing each other from prison for often saying things you aren’t really supposed to say on a mic and in public.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel also boasts of a wonderful cast which includes actors such as Tony Shalhoub, who plays Midge’s mathematically gifted father, Marin Hinkle who is her over-sensitive, over-conscious psychic-visiting mother, and Kevin Pollack who plays a tough, streetsmart businessman and Joel’s father. The complicated dynamics of Midge and Joel’s relationship are extras to the wonderful solo act that is Midge Maisel’s successful foray into comedy. She mines her life for stories, incidents and insights to create a very relatable and original set each time.